IN THE 92nd YEAR OF HIS LIFE, ON THE MORNING OF JULY 18th, 2023, THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS OF DAVID PADWA OBSERVED HIS PEACEFUL AND DIGNIFIED DEATH.
We are grateful to the legislature of New Mexico and its Governor for the passage of legislation allowing for compassionate medical assistance in dying in the event of terminal illness.
Family of David Padwa
I consider myself most fortunate to have known and spent time with David Padwa - in person, on the phone, in email, in his books and writings and photos he sent to go on his cuke page. I will miss David. He had some life. What a character. What a brilliant character. Condolences to his wife Bettina and his offspring Gideon, Mariner, and Sabrina - DC
photo taken 2022 at or near 90
I asked my Lama, Dudjom Rinpoche, if he could compress everything he knew into a single word. He thought for a while, looked directly at me, raised a finger, and said: “Amazement!”.
David Padwa's The Tetralemma
Pub date June 23, 2022
Joel Ash is a name Padwa made up for fun - or something.
A serio-comic tour through modern Buddhism. The story illustrates how life's completely random encounters causally create a chain-of-events on the meaning of silent words in one's mind, of thought, of consciousness, of chance and necessity, philosophical emptiness, the "middle-way", psychedelic chemicals, anatomy, mathematics, neuroscience, enlightenment, machine intelligence, and the absolute indispensable future of sex.
The Tetralemma states that with reference to any a logical proposition X, there
are four possibilities:
(affirmation)- (negation) - (both) - (neither) This fourfold negation is sourced in the epistemological tradition of India. Buddhist logic has been particularly familiar with the employment of the fourfold negation, as evidenced in the tradition of Nagarjuna and the Madhyamika school of the “middle way”. ---- A⋀(¬B), (¬A)⋀B, (¬A)⋀(¬B), A⋀B
c. 2008 phone Interview with David Padwa
2020 piece David Padwa sent DC in leau of being a podcast guest
Sept. 27, 2019 - Photos of David with Richard Alpert Ram Dass, Ginsberg, Trungpa, more from long ago
Alan Watts on David Padwa - from Chapter 15 of Watts' autobiography, In my Own Way
Here's the Amazon link
Here's the audio book link from Audible - with David Padwa narrating.
Excellent site for David Padwa's Incident at Lukla - Hapax Press
The author, an experienced story teller, has sojourned in most of the world's great mountain ranges over 27 years as a member of the American Alpine Club; including the Khumbu of Nepal, Kunlun Range Pakistan, Garwhal Range India, Tien Shan Range China, Chimbulak Shan Kazakhstan, Svalbard Archipelago Norway, Torres del Paine Patagonia Chile, Mt. Aspiring New Zealand, Cradle Mountain Tasmania, Brooks Range Alaska, and the American Rockies.
Aside from several years in Asia he has lived in New York City, Washington DC, Boulder, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he shares a home with his girl-friend, to whom he is married, and three Jack Russell terriers. He has contributed to academic and popular journals and served on the faculty of several universities. An astute analyst of foreign relations, he was uniquely poised to tell the thoughtful seriocomic tale of an imaginary incident at a village near Mt. Everest in his novel of the Himalayas Incident at Lukla.
And some important Zen history. I've always thought of David Padwa as a key benefactor to us all. The Richard he refers to here is Richard Baker:
richard and i had real-estate karma. i introduced him to chester carlson (inventor of xerography) who funded tassajara. years later i gifted the santa fe dharma center to him.
5-22-18 - Ram Dass talks about David Padwa in a 1980 Albuquerque Sun interview
5-12-17 - Posting a PDF of Sanskrit Coyote - Padwa on Gary Snyder. He writes: at the end of the 80s the sierra club decided to produce a festschrift to celebrate gary snyder's life/work. the editor asked me to contribute something for a dharma section. the book was published in 1991, never reprinted.
Padwa not Padua as I kept writing it. Have fixed a few places on cuke.
SFZC Zen in America fundraising brochure for Tassajara which went out early? in 67 and listed previous donors with David Padwa's name spelled Padua. Also in the Fall 67 Wind Bell the same list repeats this error. Too late to fix those.
From Email of yesterday posted 12-16-14 - I, DC, wrote David asking about his name which seems to get misspelled as Padua by more folks than me, and he replied:
ah so. i speak as an onomastician. “padwa” is a toponym. (“topos” = place). i.e. a place name. i am descended from an illustrious jewish rabbinical family of the 16th century from the italian city of Padova. originally place named by the romans as Patavium. While the italians call it Padova, the engish call it Padua, the portuguese call it Padoa, the french call it Padoue, and germanic/slavics write it as Padwa. (e.g. the frogs say the british capitol is Londres, while the eyetalians say the capitol of france is Parigi) In my family’s case the city’s name was historically written in hebrew characters which retain the V sound of padoVa, which in back-formation when written in roman script sounds the W as a V (as in Wagner) in continental europe, but as a soft W in the english speaking world, hence padwa.
And he added a bit of bio:
as a philosophy student, i came to buddha dharma in the 1950s when picking up an english copy of the dhammapada in new york’s 8th street bookstore and thought it a masterpiece of ethics and fell in love. then later, in the same bookstore i got alan's beat zen square zen and some englished suzuki daisetz and was off to the races. then some levite gave me a sacramental sugar cube with the pronouncement that any question my mind formed would be answered profoundly. i happened to be looking at a large photo of a statue of a korean maitreya/miroku and formed the query: why was that buddha smiling? twelve hours later i had my answer. around this time i met richard and thereafter we were all off to the races. om ah hung!
12-17-14 - In response to DC queries, David Padwa about his genealogy and relationship with Richard Baker
There are written rabbinical responsa (i.e. Q & As) documenting family lineage going back to 10th century france (troyes). [see An Unbroken Chain] granpa broke the rabbinical chain by interrupting his study in order to emigrate to the USA in 1914 and was not able to complete his matriculation-ordination in the new world.
i met richard in 1964 or 65 in san francisco at “parties”. we really got along and saw him whenever i came to san francisco from new york and sometimes stayed as a guest at 310 page street. always admired his subtlety of mind and cheerful mien. i owned land next to his on san juan ridge (next to gary). he brought gov brown to meet me. saw him intermittently since those early days till now. (and just a couple of months ago in santa fe when he arrived with gerd stern). i remember his talk at watt’s funeral and also suzuki roshi’s death. he married melissa and me at ZC (3rd wife) in1974. i never held his life style against him and thought he bungled the mishap at ZC by being timid, insufficiently boldly heterodox like the great masters. think radical, i say. anyway, that’s ancient history. i’ve visited in freibourg and also at johanneshof. still hoping he will write something unforgettable.
DP: yes, i meant at his funeral. there was something haunting about that occasion which probably led to my wording. though i had heard roshi’s teisho a few times, and had shared an informal dinner with him once in new york together with richard, i could not say i had ever been close to him. when at his funeral at page street, shuffling forward to pay last respects to the body in its coffin, i leaned over his corpse to bow. he appeared infinitely calm, as if carved out of a grey stone centuries earlier. for an instant our faces were eighteen or so inches apart. i had never been so close to a deceased person before and i recall my feelings as i write this. he, the room, the attendants, san francisco, the world, myself, were all one thing. everything was exactly the same. he came, he went. somehow it was not just a “funeral". just continuous dharma instruction. wah!
Born, New York City, 1932. Attended Bronx High School of Science.
B.A. University of Chicago 1950.
1951-1953. Dishwasher, ghostwriter, hospital orderly, novelist, poet, merchant-seaman. Decided to return to academic life.
1953-1954. Columbia University. Department of Government & Public Law.
1954-1957. Columbia University, School of Law. Received LL.B and Juris Doctor degrees. Admitted to the New York Bar.
1958-1960. Continued graduate studies towards Ph.D. at Columbia University. Served as legal aide to Hon. Philip C. Jessup, Fish Professor of International Law (Judge of the International Court of Justice, former Ambassador-at-Large, Assistant Secretary of State.) Authored legal articles in The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, The American Journal of International Law, The Journal of International Organization; Diplomate of the Hague Academy of International Law and Member of the Research Center at the International Court of Justice. Served as Counsel to various law firms on international law questions. Employed at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. Introduced to the Alps.
1960-1965. Founder and CEO of Basic Systems Inc. Principal offices in Cambridge, New York, Chicago, Pasadena, and Washington, DC. Firm specialized in educational and curricular technologies as well as the provision of systems integration services in education and training markets. In 1964 Xerox Corporation acquired Basic Systems; continued as division executive at Xerox and Director of Planning for educational markets.
1965-1966. Lecturer, Harvard University. Joint appointment at School of Public Administration (since renamed the Kennedy School) and Graduate School of Education.
1967-1968. Travel & Adventure. Alpine mountaineering; crewed on trans-ocean sail; drove land-rover across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Lived in Japan.
1969-1974. Moved to Santa Fe, NM. Supported regional environmental organizations in the Southwest. Organized the parallel non-governmental gathering at the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm in 1972. Founder of the Santa Fe Canyon Association; appointed by Mayor Pick to the City's Community Development Commission and there prevented paving of upper Cerro Gordo Road and preserved Cerro Gordo Park as open space. Built the Buddhist meditation center next to Cerro Gordo Park.
1975-1985. Founder and CEO of Agrigenetics Corporation. Moved to Boulder, CO; (bought first 300 baud modem 1983). Agrigenetics was the earliest agricultural biotechnology company, attaining $120 million in revenues and supporting a multi-million dollar research budget in cellular and molecular biology before being acquired by a large chemical company in 1985. The company's path-breaking genetic research and patenting strategy transformed the American crop seed industry. Consultant to the National Research Council, The Business Higher Education Council, The US Congress Office of Technology Assessment. Gave expert testimony before Congressional committees. Also served on the Board of the Industrial Biotechnology Association, and as a Director of Rothschild Biotechnology Investments, a fund listed on the London Stock Exchange.
1985-1986. Bicentennial University Professor at The University of Georgia. Studied implications of large scale computer networked collaborations in the scientific research community.
1986-1987. Professor Adjoint, University of Colorado School of Business. Appointed by Governors Lamm and Romer as Commissioner of The Colorado High Technology Commission, which developed a successful strategy for the State to benefit from its technology resources. Designed and supervised the creation of novel institutional forms to enhance technology transfer from the academic research community into the private sector, and served as consultant to several universities and the Government of Victoria, Australia on issues relating to the commercialization of university based intellectual properties.
1988-1991. Policy Research Fellow and National Science Foundation contractor at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado, a consortium of 62 research universities. Helped craft UCAR's approach to capitalizing the consortium's intellectual assets, and for developing hybrid public-private organizations in technology areas.
1987-1993. Outside board member of Bandgap Corporation, a company active in contract opto-electronic research, laser photonics, and the epitaxial fabrication of advanced semiconductor materials. The company was acquired by a Fortune 100 company in 1993. Participated in two Himalayan mountaineering expeditions and created the 1988 expedition's unprecedented internet satellite link on the Tibetan side of Mt. Everest which was used to acquire and exchange up-to-the-minute ground-level meteorological information with a group of American universities.
1991-1995. Returned to Santa Fe from Boulder. Retired again. Presented colloquium at the Santa Fe Institute on the National Science Foundation “Collaboratory” concept and another on the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Climbing in New Zealand, China.
1995 --- Spring and Fall in Nepal.
1995-1997. Chairman of NetSage Corporation, a technology company developing software systems enabling the personalization of interactivity on networks. Granted a United States Patent for the invention of an "Agent Based Instruction System & Method". Chairman of The National Homework Computer Coalition, a non-profit organization chartered in the District of Columbia to investigate requirements to provide students in K-12 with a network access device to be used at home for the special purpose of doing school assigned curricular work on a daily basis.
1998 – Gold medalist, men's over 60 relay team - Mt. Taylor Quadrathlon, and repeated in 2005
2001 – Climbed Grand Teton. Met Bettina Sulzer Milliken, marrying in 2005 and began mountain touring with her in the Khumbu of Nepal, Garwhal Ranges India, Tien Shan Range China, Chimbulak Shan Kazakhstan, Svalbard Archipelago Norway, Torres del Paine Patagonia Chile, Mt. Aspiring New Zealand, Cradle Mountain Tasmania. Commenced working on a novel Incident at Lukla.
2012 -- Now an octogenarian! The years have gone by so swiftly, with many friends gone, and so many books still unread, so many mountains unclimbed, but so happy and in good health with beloved Bettina. Absolutely amazing.
2013 - Incident at Lukla published!
Children: Sabrina Isabella Padwa, Gideon Ash Padwa, Mariner Ezra Padwa
American Alpine Club, Harvard Club of New York.
1973, David Padwa given hair-cut, robes, and Dharma name Kunzang Namgyal (Skt: Samantabhadra Vijaya). Ordination from Khyentse Rinpoche and Zognor Palyul Rinpoche, at Nyingma Lamas College, Clementown, India.
Traveling that year along Himalayan foothills
(on left, Ladhaki Vihara, Rewalsar, India)
With Dudjom Rinpoche, in Santa Fe, 1976
While staying with Dudjom Rinpoche in Kalimpong, India, in 1973, he was given relics and precious objects to place within a Mahayana style stupa in Santa Fe. This was the first stupa in the western United States and its physical construction in 1974 was supervised by Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, the esteemed chorten builder from Sikkim.
A meditation hall was constructed surrounding the stupa in 1976 and it was used in later years as a seat for Richard Baker Roshi. Philip Whalen, Issan Dorsey, and others were ordained there. Presently, the meditation hall is owned by the Maha Bodhi Society of Santa Fe and is located immediately adjacent to the campus of the Upaya Foundation.
DC thoughts on
seeing these photos.
I am in a funny situation. One
of the ways I pick up information is that I have a lot of friends who
are very deeply involved in this and that. I can sit down with Dwayne
Elgin who is just finishing a book on voluntary simplicity and was a
presidential advisor on issues of life style and worked for the Stanford
Research Institute. In Santa Fe, David Padwa is one of my closest
friends. David is probably the most brilliant human being I have ever
met. He can look at a page and then close the book and tell you the
whole page. He never forgets anything he ever knew. You ask, how do I
know the news? See, David went to the University of Chicago at fourteen.
Had to wait until he was twenty-one before they would give him his
international law degree. He was working for the United Nations after
that as an advisor in economics and maritime law. Started his own
business called Basic Systems. Built it up to a business, sold it to
Xerox, took his $5 million profit. He took off, went and studied
Buddhism in India in the mountains, and so on. Then he started another
business a few years ago called Agrigenetics Corporation. He is now
perhaps the largest independent seed owner in the world. And he is
interested in things that can change the entire food chain supply system
in the world. He is a very conscious being. He is tuned to oil,
politics, structures. He knows Russian history. So I will go and take a
hot tub with him and we will sit for a few hours and I will have just
saved up a series of questions like, “What is Russia’s predicament at
this moment?” He’ll discuss the political, the economic, the Chinese
rice fields on the border of Russia, how much grain the Russians can
take in through their ports. How many metric tons and what kind of a
drought they would need before they would have to invade China to
survive or their government would crumble because of food riots, and how
thin the chains are of food around the world. We will just have
discussions for hours and I will use him as a resource. Like reading the
encyclopedia, except it is up-to-date. Now I have him on one end and he
is in the business world, the money markets, has a tremendous grasp of
history and political, economic, stock market manipulation, stuff like
that. On the other hand, I have all of these friends who are very active
in anti-nuclear things, in social action. As a scientist I know that
stuff is not clear enough — those data aren’t clear enough yet. I mean
Allen Ginsberg, who is one of my resource people, will come and say,
“Well, I was at a meeting and the waste toxicity is over the critical
point. We have done ourselves in now. It is all over.” So I’ll say to
David, “Hey, David, Allen says. . . .” and David says, “Oh, that is a
crock. We have this and this and there is this safeguard and this is
happening and this is happening.” And I say, “Are you sure you are not
just hiding from it?” “No, no, we have got this waste possibility, and
you know. . . .” And I say, “But what if there is an earthquake?” I end
up without a clear view, so I can’t say that is bad, that is good. And I
realize that this isn’t good guys and bad guys either. Not at all. The
people that are committed to technology, obviously, have a certain blind
spot — David is one of these people — where they feel technology can
solve every problem. The people that are anti-technology are committed
to the idea that technology will slowly do us in. The relation between
our intellect and our wisdom is what is at stake here. We are almost
hypnotically entranced by technology. Just like by psychiatry, just like
by drugs. There is an addiction to technology that we are just coming
out of now. Wisdom undercuts addiction.
my first engagement with buddha dharma was bookish. when i was 18 (70
years ago) i found some theravadin materials and found them profound and
engaging even though it was written for enrobed practitioners. i found
suzuki [dt] and alan watts and fell in love with the mahayana subtleties
of Zen. still bookish but i began to experiment with meditation, but
without a teacher. reading lots more though. my first time in india in
1966 had little exposure to buddhism, and lord B was simply the 8th
avatar of vishnu. my second india trip in 1967, when we met you in
macleod ganj or upper dharmsala and led to our brief meeting with HH.
later we spent a bit of time with acid at sarnath. then to kathmandu
without any buddhists and finally my journey on to japan where i spent a
couple of months getting a real exposure to japanese Zen, which i quite
liked. Zen was my way, it seemed.
then in late 1969 or early 1970 i met a young lama in new york who had
recently arrived from scotland. his name was chogyam trungpa. we had a
pleasant lunch and he was dressed like a westerner. i asked him to look
me up if he came to new mexico. a few months later he did so. we spent
several days together which were enormously interesting. significantly,
the two of us took a drive up to the old anasazi indian ruins at puye.
we climbed a ladder down into an ancient kiva. there, for the first time
i formally took the refuges. this was before he established his seat in
boulder. we had occasional meetings in the following years, nothing very
close, but always very friendly and i was extremely grateful to him for
showing me another path, probably called crazy wisdom without using
those words. but i still didn’t have my root teacher. that had to wait
until the arrival of dudjom rinpoche.
In santa fe i bought the 1404 cerro gordo house and two vacant adjacent
lots in 1970. In late 1972 HH Dudjom Rinpoche together with his family
stayed with me at 1404. Accompanying him was Sonam Kazi, a Sikkimese,
whom I had met in India in 1966 and who had been an interpreter for the
young Dalai Lama at one time. Sonam was an in-law of Dudjom R and was
accompanying him, shenpen dawa and family, on their round the world
trip. They had been with Tarthang Tulku in California and were on their
way to New York, France, and New Delhi. Their visit to New Mexico was a
private rest and recreation holiday arranged by Sonam and it was my
unbelievable luck to have Dudjom Rinpoche entirely to myself for 10
intensely interpersonal days, which was when a became his student. He
asked me dozens of penetrating questions about myself. My sexual
behavior and many personal things. I was full of questions for him. He
then invited me to come to India and study with him at his home in
Kalimpong in West Bengal a few months later, in 1973).
While still in Santa Fe, after more than a week together I asked Rinpoche if he would give a talk on Buddhism to interested persons. He agreed, and his son Shenpen Dawa and Sonam assisted in translation. I then put up half dozen 8.5x11 notices around town and on the designated evening some 50 odd persons crowded into the big room at 1404 and sat on the floor to hear Rinpoche's talk. (Dennis Hopper came down from Taos.) it was a wonderful and inspiring event, taking place on the eve of Rinpoche's departure, and brought a number of people into an emerging Buddhist sangha in Santa Fe. This talk was followed on the day of Rinpoche's departure by an immense brilliant and durable rainbow in the sky to the east. It all seemed mysteriously auspicious.
Several months later, in India i took genyen/upasaka vows at nyingma
lamas college in clementown in 1973 and went on to kalimpong. Rinpoche
arranged for me to have a cell up at zangdo palri. It was an incredibly
fruitful time which i won’t discuss here. before my departure from india
Dudjom R and i discussed erecting a stupa in america. i explained to him
the relevance of a large zen buddhist sangha in the US. which would not
easily bridge into the vajrayana. we agreed that the broad concept of
the mahayana was suitable. he gave me his own drawings of the 4 sided
mahayana chorten design as well as various relics for its interior. He
also gave me specific instruction not to attempt building the stupa
myself but to wait until a Tibetan Lama was available to supervise and
sacralize the construction. Nothing was said about the stupa's location.
I returned to Santa Fe at the end of the year.
In early 1974 Sonam Kazi and his wife visited me in Santa Fe and I took
them to overnights on the Hopi reservation to meet Tibetan-like native
americans. Somehow during that trip the name of Harold Talbot came up
and Sonam mentioned that Dodrup Chen was staying with him in
Massachusetts. Why not invite him to Santa Fe to supervise the
construction of the stupa, i asked. Sonam thought this was a great idea
because Dodrup Chen was a famous builder of stupas all over Sikkim. I
then underwrote Sonam's trip to Mass. to see if he could fetch Dodrup
Chen to Santa Fe.
Dodrup Chen arrived and this quickly led to the question of where to build it. There had been earlier discussions about locating the stupa in Truchas, or in the Huerfano valley in Colorado, or up in Taos near the Lama Foundation. But when Dodrup Chen arrived he consulted various texts in his possession involving sacred geomancy and declared that the ideal location would be on the vacant lot adjacent to the 1404 house (where he was staying).
The auspicious signs according to him were that a hill in the shape of a
tortoise should lie to the north of the stupa and this was clearly the
case of the Cerro Gordo. Furthermore, there should be a river flowing
from east to west to the south of the location, and this was indeed the
Santa Fe river. In other words this vacant lot adjacent to 1404 was
ideal. And that's why it was built at that spot. Geomancy!
The construction involving a full-time crew of a licensed contractor
took about a week. The contents of the stupa (a reliquary by definition)
were elaborate and Dodrup Chen was present from morning to night.
Finally it was finished. The local neighbors thought it was a
During the following two years prior to and during the construction of
the surrounding Maha Bodhi Society Temple house the stupa attracted
numerous Buddhist visitors who gave their blessings and performed ritual
circumambulations. Among them in addition to Dodrup Chen* and HH Dudjom*
were Shenpen Dawa Rinpoche*, Sorgyal Tulku*, Kalu Rinpoche*, Dilgo
Khentse Rinpoche*, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche*, HH the Gyalwa Karmapa,
Sasaki Roshi, Katagiri Roshi, and others like Ram Dass*, David Chadwick,
Bob Thurman, Alan Ginsberg* and Gary Snyder*. (The * signifies their
staying at 1404.)
Dudjom Rinpoche revisited Santa Fe in 1976 and was deeply moved by what had taken place. He arranged for me to sit with him in a private room and decided to give me the wong initiation for the sadhana of dorje
Thereafter, after the building of the surrounding temple house and the legal creation of the Maha Bodhi Society of santa fe, and during the tenure of Richard Baker Roshi many Buddhists, venerable and otherwise, gave their blessings and did their circumambulations. Ditto under the lengthy and caring MBS stewardship of Jonathan Altman. And ditto again from the flow of many visitors to the Upaya Zen Center. I have no record of circumambulators after the 1970s. But now, 46 years later, there can be no doubt that the Maha Bodhi Stupa has become a powerful Karmic engine of the enlightening Buddhist Dharma.
More on the Chorten sent later
so here’s a bit more of background: upaya zen center, under the charismatic leadership of joan halifax, a dear old chum of mine, has been a success, spiritually, administratively, financially, demographically, and physically. today its campus completely surrounds the stupa and the private Maha Bodhi Society temple. for the last 30 years an independent board under the leadership of jonathan altman have been the stewards and financial protectors of the MBS. jonathan has been a longtime zen practitioner who came under the influence of dudjom R in 1976. now time’s sovereignty begins to beg the question of the future of the stupa. simply put, should the MBS be merged with the Upaya community. the MBS has always been completely non-sectarian and non-lineage. it’s openness has always been the MAHAyana. At present the question of merger is underway. and in a sense this is somewhat about the merger of nyingma and zen.
recently i sent the following to Joan Halifax, as a refresher:
The Nyingma lineage is the
oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. "Nyingma"
literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as the "school of
the ancient translations" or "old school" because it is founded on the
first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Old
Tibetan in the eighth century. Its earliest Indian exponent was
Vimalamitra, an 8th-century Indian monk. Its highest teaching was called
Dzogchen or "Great Perfection", a tradition of teachings in Tibetan
Buddhism aimed at discovering and continuing in the natural primordial
state of being. It is the central teaching of the Nyingma school.
However, in the eighth century the Tibetan royal house at that time was
uncertain about the authenticity of Buddhist teaching. There was the
Nalanda university gradualist approach which had arrived in Tibet from
India, and a Chinese (Zen) sudden approach in opposition. The king of
Tibet then arranged for a great debate between these two approaches. The
Samye Debate, also called Council of Lhasa, was a two-year debate in
writing over whether enlightenment happened gradually or suddenly. It
took place at Samye Temple, hosted by King Trisong Detsen, between
Indian Monastics from Nalanda and a Chinese monk Moheyan (“Mahayana”)
from the Tang Imperial Court between 792 and 794. Kamalaśila was invited
to represent Indian Vajrayana while Moheyan represented the East
Mountain Teaching of Chan Buddhism. (Both of these schools are grounded
in the Nagarjuna's 3rd century Madhyamika/Prajnaparamita traditions.)
The surviving Tibetan narrative of this event was related by Butön
Rinpoche (1290–1364), a 14th-century Tibetan Buddhist historian of the
Sakya and Gelugpa schools. Butön is remembered to this day as a
prodigious scholar and writer and as Tibet’s most celebrated historian.
According to Butön, the Chinese monk lost the debate and retreated from
Tibet placing his sandals on his head. That is the prevalent view of all
the later schools of Tibetan Buddhist teaching. As I was somewhat
familiar with Paul Demiéville’s studies of the Samye debate it was one
of the first things I ever discussed with Dudjom Rinpoche, who was the
foremost living scholar of the Nyingma lineage. When I referred to
Butön’s history of the debate Dudjom Rinpoche laughed and said that
according to the Nyingma tradition it was the Chinese [chan] monk
“Mahayana” who won the debate which was nothing more than the teaching
of Dzogchen. This was extremely important for me since when I first met
Dudjom Rinpoche (my “root” lama) in 1972 most of my knowledge of
Buddhist practice came with an American Zen flavor andthus made my
transition to Nyingma perspectives rather easy and made my discussions
with Rinpoche very fruitful and informative.
Thus furthermore and finally and to the point, it was this particular tale that formed the background for our jointly choosing the 4 sided Mahayana style (rather than the rounded Vajrayana style) of the MBS chorten/stupa to signify that it was to be emblematic of universal mahayana dharma rather than the narrower symbolism of the vajrayana or tantric tradition. svaha!
here's large footnote on the stupa's internal anatomy:
dudjom rinpoche gave me three things for the chorten.
1. his large drawing of the design on a 2x3' handmade paper sheet. it was folded in quarto.
2. his handwritten prajnaparamita in tibetan script in 108 lines.
3. a reliquary object, viz: a stick about 18" long. the stick was
hand-carved to be 4 sided. each
side about 3/4 inch wide. it was ink-painted in a pale red. its very top
was carved resembling a pyramid so that in whole it was like a very
elongated obelisk. there was tibetan writing inked on the four sides.
then imagine 8 or 10 extremely tiny cotton bags, each the size of a
large pea, each knotted at the top. these mini bags of relics were
affixed with small pins along the sides of the stick, each one with a
tiny inscription above. each contained relics of one kind or another,
unknown to me.
i placed this collection within my rolled up maroon genyen robe and brought it back to santa fe this way. it was only unrolled in the presence of dodrup chen rinpoche. he seemed very satisfied with the contents.
after the chorten's location was fixed, the construction crew excavated
a square piece of ground which would serve as the foundation space to a
depth of about 18". in the center of this square a hole of ~10 inch
diameter and about 3 feet deep was excavated. a flat roundish piece of
flagstone was fitted to the bottom of the hole. with an awl rinpoche had
carefully incised a visvavajra design on either side of the flagstone
and carefully placed it as a plate at the bottom of the hole. it was to
prevent chthonic forces from emerging. following this a concrete pour
filled the square to serve as the foundation slab on which the chorten
would be erected.
then, following the design of dudjom rinpoche's drawing, the sides of
the chorten were raised with thick cinder blocks, leaving a hollow
center space before it was to be enclosed with a cement roof. it left a
rounded space in the hollow center where much of it was filled with
precious objects and offerings from santa fe's small Buddhist community.
there were a number of buddhist books (i remember snellgrove's hevajra
tantra, a dhamapadda, and others), many pieces of turquoise, eagle
feathers, raven feathers, a small navajo rug, numerous malas, lots of
incense sticks, and pine boughs.
the red stick with its attachments was to be installed upright in the
center, cradled by the surrounding material. dudrup chen intended to
wind the stick round with dudjom ripoche's holograph. he remarked that
it was a pity there was only a single copy. i said we could xerox
additional copies. he didn't understand what that meant. (this was
1974). we explained. could we make 8 copies he asked. we could make as
many as he wanted we explained. could we make 108 copies? certainly. so
we went to town and made 108 copies.
then, with the help of scotch tape we wound the copies around the red
stick so that it formed a large cylinder. dodrup chen was very pleased
with this. then he asked for a sheet of red silk which we wrapped around
the sacral cylinder. then he asked for 5 needles with threads of five
colors. with these he sewed the silk fabric so as to form a tight
sleeve. this drum was then placed firmly in the center of the hollow
interior. more boughs and flowers held it in a steady position as the
roof-cap slab was cemented into place and a finial adornment was added
to the top.
after the erecting the building around the chorten in 1974, and from then until 1980 my family used the “temple” house as a private space, which then featured a giant wooden hot tub. while we gave it over to visiting buddhist teachers for a few days at a time my family used the big shrine room as a private meditation and yoga space. then when i left santa fe for boulder i gifted the entire establishment to richard baker roshi in 1980, after he purchased my adjacent house 1404. no special instructions was conveyed. so i lived in boulder from 1980 to 1990 and paid little attention to what was going on in santa fe. then in the early 1990’s baker roshi was pulling out of santa fe and he then gifted the temple back to me! well, i didn’t want the responsibility so i had my lawyer draft up a conveyance of the property to a new non-profit which i named the MahaBodhiSociety of Santa Fe (the residuary legatee was to be the MBS of Calcutta!) and after owning it again for about 24-48 hours i gifted the property to that new entity. at no time were any special instructions given except that it was to be used “for the study and practice of buddhism and for no other purpose” (i.e. no dance recitals, yoga instruction, musical events, etc). i believe that’s when jonathan altman got involved as the chairman of a new board and took on the leadership responsibility. jonathan has just had a quadruple bypass and the question of the future of the property is a question being shared with joan halifax and the upaya board. and though i was its founder and creator i’ve had very little to do with the temple over the last thirty years. i guess i always figured that the stupa itself would be doing the hard work. can’t tell one anything more. just good luck to all beings!
so now, the concept of moving the ownership of the chorten property over to upaya zen center arouses a question of whether the non-sectarian character of the MBS can be preserved in the future.
so now in my 89th year of life i am midwifing the care of the stupa and its building to the upaya zen center with the understanding that they will protect its non-sectarian and lineageless character, paying special attention to the wording of this mandate:
periodic reflections on this subject lead me to a few conclusions:
given the importance on the "maha" adjective it seems to me that a suitable arrangement would be to have zen-lineaged Upaya accept a role as protective guardian of the emblematic universal historical nature of a mahayana bodhi "temple" (and cemetery) and to undertake all things thus required.
the key to accepting this role this would lie in the formal (legal) "instrument of conveyance" -- a term of art -- wherein a piece of determinative language would embody the shared views of the parties. therefore, i suggest that you Zen Center Upayists commence work on the important wording of such an instrument of conveyance, formalizing the handing over of the property. there is no rush, but it’s worth beginning the poetic task of drafting such key written phrases, which could then be proposed to jonathan.
then, perhaps some time in mid to late april, in my capacity as founder of the MBS, i would contact jonathan and share with him the thoughts outlined above as a preliminary to meeting as a small group to learn if we are all in shared agreement. and then to create a formal document.
if accomplished, we could then proceed to have some sort of public celebration to witness the execution of the formalities. perhaps on May 7, Vesak, the Buddha's birthday.
finally, recently, i’ve come to appreciate that it is time for there to be a buddhist cemetery of cremains, in santa fe. possibly the first in the western US. i think it should be alongside the MBS property. for anyone of our sangha who has taken the refuges. that’s it. i wrote this to Keith Dowman:
As I've been engaging in self-quarantine for years now it provides abundant time to fill sweet emptiness with memento-mori, such as the matter of a Buddhist cemetery in Santa Fe. I've discussed this with several persons such as yourselves, but it remains blowing in the wind without tangible embodiment. It seems to me that the impending buoyant metamorphosis of the Mahabodhi property presents a singular opportunity for realization. In fact, why shouldn't an "instrument of conveyance" formally recite the agreed creation of a cemetery for ashes of the maha-sangha on the western side of the MBS building? Is there an opposition to this idea? If not, I pray that the lawyers include language to this effect in a transforming document of ownership. It should be a point of pride.
I feel certain there are no legal obstacles to doing this, and I leave funerary rules, registry and aesthetics to others. But we should definitely seize the moment! Not so?
so this all seems to be happening. it was near a week ago when my eyes fell upon your edition of Longchenpa’s "old man basking in the sun” snugged in my bookshelf and i remembered our comradeship and got the idea of telling you all about it. that’s the way it is. so i invite you to enjoin your executors to convey a bowl of your ashes upon an event of impermanence in our uncertain futures for interment in our mahabodhi cemetery. i hope you enjoy this tale and that it provides some pleasurable comfort in the days ahead.
all the best,
an earlier shot of David
This page created 12-15-14. Updated 5-15-2022.
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